Synthetic biology is a new area of biological research and technology that combines science and engineering. It encompasses a variety of different approaches, methodologies, and disciplines with a variety of definitions. The common goal is the design and construction of new biological functions and systems not found in nature.
The scientists who engage in synthetic biology research approach the creation of new biological system from different perspectives, focusing on finding how life works (the origin of life) or how to use it to benefit society. The former focus includes the approach of biology, inserting man-made DNA into a living cell; and chemistry, working on gene synthesis as an extension of synthetic chemistry. The latter focus includes engineering, building the new biological system as a platform for various technologies; and rewriting, rebuilding the natural systems to provide the engineered surrogates.
The advance of synthetic biology relies on several key enabling technologies provided at ever increasing speed and lower cost. DNA sequencing, fabrication of genes, modeling how synthetic genes behave, and precisely measuring gene behavior are essential tools in synthetic biology.
Biosafety and biosecurity concerns are the understandable response to this new science and technology that have the potential to profoundly change the nature of life forms as we know it. Numbers of civic society groups and online forums called for study of societal and ethical impact of this new technology, licensing and monitoring. The community of synthetic biology has discussed policy options and started initiatives of self-regulation. Symposia and meetings by the broader science community have brought the efforts at developing guidelines and regulations; addressing the issues of intellectual property and governance, and the ethical, societal and legal implications. Several bioethics research institutes published reports on ethical concerns and the public perception of synthetic biology. A report from the U.S. Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues called for enhanced federal oversight in the United States on this emerging technology.